By EILEEN DICKERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 9, 2011
Looking back on her 70 years as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, Sister Eileen Murray’s years as group mother at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, N.Y., shine in her memory as some of the most meaningful of her ministry. So it seemed fitting that one of the boys she mothered there surprised her by attending her 70th Jubilee celebration.
The recent celebration, which included a Mass and a special dinner with the friends and families of 15 jubilarian sisters, was held at the congregation’s Motherhouse in Yardley, Pa.
Sister Eileen served for many years in ministry in Atlanta. A native of Ogdensburg, she entered the Grey Nun congregation in September 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. Women had to do the work of men who were at war, and religious congregations were no exception.
“I drove a tractor, painted and did repairs because we didn’t have a handy man,” she remembers.
She spent her first few years in ministry teaching elementary school. Then, from 1945 until 1960, she was missioned to St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, caring for children who were orphaned or whose parents could not care for them.
“They were marvelous, rewarding years,” she says.
For many of the children, Sister Eileen was the only mother they ever knew. Ben Bruso, who lived in the home from the age of 15 months until the age of 12, recalls her comforting presence in the boys dormitory as they slept.
“In order to best protect the boys in her charge and to ensure that she was available in case something happened, she arranged to have a corner of our dormitory blocked off with sheets and she had her bed, a desk, a trunk and a lamp set up inside of her ‘bedroom.’ I can remember many a night when one of the boys would need help and she was there, calmly and lovingly.”
Her loving presence comforted him when, at 9, he had his tonsils removed. He remembers struggling as an ether mask was placed over his face until he heard Sister Eileen’s voice “calmly telling me that it was OK.” Later in the night he awoke to find Sister Eileen sitting by his bedside, reading her prayer book. “She got me some ice cream, and I fell asleep peacefully, knowing that she would take care of me.”
“I remember the ways Sister Eileen let me know that I was special to her and that I had someone who cared for me, besides God,” he recalls. “She made sure that I was one of the boys who rode up on the elevator with her when we were going to bed. I would stand in front of her and she would quietly tug on my ear a couple of times, and I knew that was special since she didn’t do that for anyone else.”
When Ben was 12, Sister Eileen arranged for his adoption. The Brusos welcomed Ben into their home and into their hearts, and his days as an orphan were past. As part of his adaptation to his new life, visiting the orphanage was discouraged and his life path and Sister Eileen’s diverged.
In 1960, St. Joseph’s Home closed. Sister Eileen’s ministry path took a different direction, and she was assigned to teach science at Christ the King School and at St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta, a city she calls “my second home.”
In 1986, Sister Eileen began a ministry to the elderly at St. Jude Parish. With great enthusiasm, she planned activities, visited those in nursing homes and hospitals and arranged for priests to celebrate Mass in nursing homes. She was honored with the Woman of the Year Award at the Women’s Guild Dinner in Atlanta in 1991 for her outstanding work.
Sister Eileen retired to the Grey Nuns Yardley Motherhouse in 2010.
After high school, Bruso joined the Army and served for almost 25 years. During his military career, he worked in counterintelligence and as an interpreter. After his retirement from the Army in 1988, he continued working as a civilian in counterintelligence and security.
Although life had separated them, Sister Eileen and Ben Bruso remained in each other’s hearts, thoughts and prayers. In 1986, he called Yardley in search of Sister Eileen. She contacted him, and they met in Ogdensburg, where their lives intertwined so many years ago. “We drove to the home I moved to when I was adopted. The family who bought the place after my adopted father died allowed us to come inside. It brought back memories for both of us.”
Every Mother’s Day, Sister Eileen receives a bouquet from her special charge. Bruso knew that 2011 would be the year of Sister Eileen’s 70th Jubilee and asked the Grey Nuns if he could attend and surprise her.
On the day of the celebration, as another sister pinned a corsage onto her dress, Sister Eileen looked up to see the little boy she cared for so long ago smiling at her in the crowd of well wishers. “I was shocked,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting him to be there. It brought tears to my eyes.”
At the festive Jubilee party, Ben Bruso and Sister Eileen shared cake, laughter and memories of St. Joseph’s Home. He made it clear that the impact his childhood with the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart—and Sister Eileen–had on him has lasted a lifetime.
“The Grey Nuns loved me and cared for me, and it is because of them that I bear no malice toward anyone for my 12 years in the orphanage,” he says. “I’ve had a good and successful life, and I know that who and what I am today is directly due to the love and care I received from the Grey Nuns—especially from Sister Eileen.”
As Sister Eileen looks back over her 70 years of religious life, she is, she says, filled with gratitude. “I received so many gifts in the people, the places, the opportunity—which few women religious have—to mother children. They say the Lord works through dull instruments. I agree—He used me in so many ways to touch so many people.”
In addition to the honors in Yardley, Sister Eileen learned of one in Atlanta.
St. Jude Church will name a special new building in her honor, it was announced.
Ann-Marie White, director of communications for St. Jude Church, said a Spiritual Life Center will be opened in her honor.
“For 40 years, Sister Eileen served the St. Jude community in so many ways,” the parish tribute said. “She taught our young people and cared for our elderly. She was a spiritual advisor to many of us and a friend to all. In honor of Sister Eileen’s legacy of service and devotion in our parish community, a Spiritual Life Center will be opened at St. Jude and named for her. The house at 725 Spalding Drive, which served as the Grey Nuns’ convent in recent years, will be renovated and reopened later this year as the Sister Eileen Murray, GNSH, Spiritual Life Center.”
The renovation is scheduled to be completed and the center dedicated in mid-October.